On 9 May 1950, a day before the tenth anniversary of the German invasion of the Netherlands, Belgium and France, Robert Schuman, then French foreign minister, pronounced a famous declaration inviting Germany and other European countries to join their productions of coal and steel as a first step towards the creation of a European federation which could contribute to the guarantee of peace in the continent by creating a degree of solidarity among its members. This proposal was filled with ideas that gave it strength. It is no exaggeration to call it the alpha of European integration.
On 12 May 2000, recalling Schuman's speech - but not the invasion - the German foreign minister has given a speech at the Humboldt University in Berlin, entitled From Confederacy to Federation - Thoughts on the Finality of European Integration. The speech was immediately published by some leading European newspapers, and before the summer came there were reactions by Jacques Chirac, in a speech at the Bundesrat, several newspaper articles, a new intervention by Fischer himself before the European Parliament, et cetera.
The speech seemed to come at the right time, a month and some weeks before the beginning of the French presidency. Bilateral meetings between France and Germany were held at the historical château of Rambouillet. It first seemed that the Franco-German axe was beginning to work again, an impression that then gradually faded with the heat of the summer and is not likely to revive in the Fall. The intergovernmental conference will again be a diplomatic event playing with constitutional fire, but the most important questions will have to wait.
In this pages I shall try to read Fischer's speech and criticise it in its own terms, a modest but perhaps not totally useless exercise. Fischer's message is ambivalent and my impression was very ambivalent as well; first positive, then sceptic, at points rather negative. Unlike Schuman's declaration, the speech does not have - and is not having and probably will never have - much generative force. The comparison is perhaps too obvious and unfair, but there are, in addition, some substantive problems with his proposal that cannot pass unnoticed.